Hand in Paw is returning to in-person animal-assisted therapy visits after having to provide virtual visits during the pandemic.
Citing the availability of COVID-19 vaccines, Hand in Paw officials said they would begin slowly by hosting small, socially distanced therapy team refresher courses to introduce new health and safety visit protocols. The group is working with its partners to ensure volunteer, staff and client safety.
“Our therapy teams shifted to virtual visits during COVID-19 and are preparing for a return to in-person visits,” Hand in Paw founder Beth Franklin said in a statement. “There is a huge need for these teams to help those who have suffered so many losses, and we are eager to be part of their healing.”
During the pandemic, Hand in Paw created TeleHIP therapy teams to keep in touch with program partners online by using video conferencing tools.
“Understanding the isolation and loneliness of our community, therapy teams embraced technology and learned to serve in creative and interesting ways,” Executive Director Margaret Stinnett said. “Program Partners like Children’s Hospital, UAB, the Exceptional Foundation, Glenwood and Girls Inc. collaborated with Hand in Paw to develop new ways of providing therapeutic support and educational experiences. Many schools welcomed therapy teams to work with struggling readers and life skill-oriented classrooms. It has been a time of ‘coming together’ for teachers, health care workers and volunteers.”
Hand in Paw announced its return to in-person therapy on the occasion of its 25th anniversary of providing animal-assisted therapy to north central Alabama and Tuscaloosa.
Franklin in 1996 struck out on a mission to create an organization that would improve people’s lives through animal-assisted therapy, at a time when such therapy had not been much in the spotlight. She and her rescued peke-a-poo, Jessica, had their first visit at UAB’s Comprehensive Care Center and, along with other volunteer handler and animal therapy teams, quickly became a familiar sight in area hospitals, schools, nursing homes and rehabilitation facilities.
Today, the group has more than 70 program partners and 100 therapy teams. The teams are trained in a state-of-the-art facility that was renovated and expanded in 2019, after a $2 million capital campaign. The expanded campus enables the organization to train more potential teams and serve more of the community.
The campus also can be used for service projects, educational events and volunteer orientations.
Hand in Paw in its early years focused on visits to children. But now it provides animal-assisted therapy to people of all ages. Its program areas are HIP Heals, which focuses on mental health, wellness and compassion; HIP Reads, which focuses on education, literacy and special education; and HIP Cares, which focuses on life skills, mentoring and animal advocacy.
Hand in Paw relies on donors to fund its work. To donate, go to handinpaw.org/donate.